Nick Roy helms Google’s delivery-drone project

Nick Roy

Friends and colleagues were aware, at some level, that Nick Roy, a researcher in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), had been using his sabbatical to take on some sort of robotics-related role at Google.

But few people knew the full scope of his work until this past week, when Google X — the infamous idea incubator known for Google Glass, self-driving cars, and wireless hot-air balloons — unveiled a video introducing Project Wing, an ambitious delivery-drone initiative that Roy has overseen for the past two years.

At Google X’s secret Mountain View headquarters, Roy, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, led a team of several dozen autonomy experts to determine the technical feasibility of self-flying delivery vehicles.

Project Wing lined up nicely with Roy’s work as head of CSAIL’s Robust Robotics Group, which focuses in part on sensing, planning, and controlling unmanned vehicles in environments without GPS. He even brought on board a handful of key MIT collaborators, including recent graduates Abraham Bachrach PhD ’13 and Adam Bry SM ’11, whose state-estimation algorithms have drastically improved unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) navigation in indoor spaces.

“The culture at Google X is surprisingly similar to CSAIL,” Roy says. “They’re both forums for ideas, where people are thinking not just about what can be fixed today, but the big questions that, ten or twenty years down the road, we’ll look back at and wonder how they hadn’t been answered yet.”

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California Hotel Offers Bottle Service by Drone

ABC US News | ABC Entertainment News

Imagine there was a champagne drone delivery service that flies in bottles of bubbly at just the right time for celebrating life’s biggest moments.

The fantasy can become a reality for deep-pocketed guests at the The Mansion at Casa Madrona’s Alexandrite Suite in Sausalito, Calif.

The bay side hotel, which re-opened earlier this month after renovations, announced that the $10,000 per night suite would include the cutting edge champagne drone delivery service.

A video posted on the hotel’s Instagram account shows the robotic aircraft safely ferrying two bottles of pricey champagne through the air before making a smooth landing on a patio.


US Drone Ban Infringes Press Freedom

Washington:  Sixteen major US news organizations came together Tuesday to accuse the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of curtailing freedom of the press by restricting the use of drones.

Unlike other countries, the United States prohibits the use of drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS), for commercial purposes, although the FAA grants rare exceptions for government and law enforcement use.

In a brief to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the news organizations — including The New York Times and The Washington Post — argued that drones are a First Amendment concern.

Through “a series of threats of administrative sanction,” the FAA has “flatly banned” the use of drones for newsgathering purposes, according to the 25-page brief.

“The FAA’s position is untenable as it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding about journalism,” it added. “News gathering is not a ‘business purpose.’ It is a First Amendment right.”

The brief was filed in the context of the dismissal by an NTSB administrative judge in March of a $10,000 civil penalty that the FAA slapped on European drone entrepreneur Raphael Pirker for a promotional video he made in 2011 over the campus of the University of Virginia.

The FAA alleged that Pirker — based in Hong Kong and known among drone enthusiasts worldwide as Trappy — operated his five-pound (2.25 kilogram) Styrofoam flying wing recklessly and without a proper pilot’s license.

The FAA is appealing that decision to the full NTSB board, saying it is concerned it “could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of the people and property on the ground.”

Other news organizations that co-signed the brief include the Associated Press news agency, the Gannett, Hearst, McClatchy and Tribune newspaper groups, and Advance Publications, owner of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines.

Last month Texas EquuSearch, a non-profit search-and-rescue group, filed a lawsuit in Washington against the FAA after it was ordered by the agency to stop using drones to find missing people.

In February, the FAA said it would miss an end-of-2015 deadline set by Congress for fresh regulations enabling civilian drones to safely share the skies with private and commercial aircraft.

It added that when regulations do come, they would come in stages.


Lockheed Develops Three New UAV Technologies

VINEYARD, Utah, April 29 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin reports that three technologies it acquired and developed for use with unmanned aerial vehicles have achieved operational readiness status.

The Indago vertical take-off and landing quad-rotor UAV, along with a handheld ground control station for it, offers a mobile surveillance, and Lockheed Martin claims that a new commercial avionics suite will maintain the performance capabilities of previous models at a lower price.

“After two years of developing these capabilities, we will now be able to deliver affordable and effective products to both military and commercial customers,” said Kevin Westfall, director of unmanned solutions at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business. “The Indago VTOL, handheld GCS and advanced commercial avionics suite will provide mobility and high accuracy for a range of missions — now and in the future.”

The Indago, which can be folded up for carrying, is just 32x32x7 inches and weighs five pounds. It can reach a distance of as much as three miles and can fly for 45 minutes when its operator uses the handheld ground control system.

The VTOL features a 360 degree panning capability to aid area surveillance and provide enhanced situational awareness and actionable imagery.

Lockheed said its Kestrel autopilot system, which uses failsafe algorithms to increase safety throughout the mission, is at the heart of the system.

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Arcturus UAV Unveils JUMP Fixed Wing VTOL UAV

Today Arcturus UAV unveiled JUMP™, a new vertical takeoff and landing system for their T-20 and T-16 fixed wing UAVs.

“This is a pivotal moment in the history of small unmanned air vehicles. JUMP™ is to UAVs what the touch screen was to smart phones,” according to D’Milo Hallerberg, president of Arcturus UAV.

Booms fitted with vertical lift motors and rotors are mounted to each wing to provide vertical lift for takeoff and landing. Vertical lift motors are shut off for winged flight and propellers are feathered longitudinally for minimum drag. Seamless transition to winged flight is achieved by the Piccolo autopilot using Latitude Engineering’s Hybrid-Quadrotor technology. All flight control is fully autonomous. Arcturus JUMP™ enjoys all of the versatility of a quad rotor while retaining the superior range and endurance of a fixed wing. JUMP™ fitted Arcturus air vehicles require no special launch equipment and do not require runways for launch or landing. JUMP™ can be easily transported and operated by only two technicians. Once on site, JUMP™ can be set up and ready for flight in less than 15 minutes. The company is accepting orders for JUMP™.

“JUMP™ makes exciting UAV technology much more useful,” says Hallerberg.


The Drones Are Coming: FAA-approved labs test UAVs for use in US skies


At Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, a helicopter drone hovers menacingly over a robot vehicle. The vehicle tries to evade the drone, turning right and left – surging forward and backward. Like an angry wasp, the drone swoops back and forth, staying directly in front of the robot – exactly one meter away, one meter off the ground.

And it does it all without a human at the controls. In fact, human hands can’t replicate what the drone did with such precision.

It’s all part of a series of complex experiments to determine whether drones can be safely integrated into already-crowded U.S. airspace, and what they might best be used for.

“I believe they’re going to be a big part of our future,” said university President Flavius Killebrew. “Maybe not in the way you see on some of the ads, but in ways that we haven’t even conceived of yet.”

The “ads” Killebrew refers to are “blue-sky” campaigns by Amazon, DHL and Domino’s pizza that envision a world where drones will deliver everything from DVDs to double-cheese stuffed crust. Complicated navigation in urban areas is years away, if even possible, Killebrew says. The more likely first application for drones, he says, will be in rural areas, far from buildings and people.

“Like pipelines,” he told Fox News. “You can fly a pipeline with sensors to determine if there are leaks.”

Texas A&M Corpus Christi is one of six test sites picked by the FAA to work out the details on putting commercial drones in the skies by 2016. One of the other test sites — in North Dakota – just received approval by the FAA to conduct experiments using drones to survey crops.

According to the FAA, there are some 7,000 commercial aircraft in the skies over the U.S. at any given moment. The challenge is how to integrate thousands of drones in the same space.


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Drone built by Cal Poly students wins contest

A team of Cal Poly students has created an object that might be confused with a UFO, a science-fiction film prop, or even a bizarre pool toy.

Their invention of aluminum, PVC piping, steel and pool “noodle” foam makes a whiny buzz, hovers in the air, and gently lands in a field of grass on campus.

They call it SkyBarge.

The group of nine engineering majors created its version of an unmanned aerial vehicle — commonly known as a drone.

On April 5, their flying object steered by remote control won a regional American Society of Mechanical Engineers competition.

Cal Poly hosted the contest, which is held annually at various campuses.

The challenge was to design a craft that could simulate a UAV firefighting operation.

The Cal Poly students’ craft negotiated an obstacle course by flying through hoops and dropping a sandbag on target before returning to its starting point within the allotted five minutes. It completed the mission in about 90 seconds.

The team beat out 14 other universities at the competition in the Bonderson Engineering building, where about 100 spectators gathered to watch.

Other universities included San Jose State, Oregon Institute of Technology and University of Idaho.

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Google to acquire drone-maker Titan Aerospace

Google is buying drone maker Titan Aerospace, a company that Facebook was reportedly interested in earlier this year. The video is provided by Buzz60 Newslook.

Google says it has agreed to acquire Titan Aerospace, a 2-year-old start-up maker of high-altitude drones.

The search-engine giant did not say how much it will pay for Titan, whose solar-powered drones will help Google collect aerial images.

Google’s gain comes at the expense of Facebook, who earlier this year was in talks to buy the New Mexico-based company for a reported $60 million. Facebook ended up purchasing Ascenta, a U.K.-based aerospace company that has also been working on solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles, for $20 million.

When Facebook announced its Connectivity Lab initiative last month, it said it added “the world’s top experts on aerospace technology,” including Ascenta employees.

The 20-person Titan team will be paired with Google’s Project Loon, which is building large, high-altitude balloons that send Internet signals to areas of the planet that are currently not online, according to Google.

Titan touts several applications for its drones, including data delivery, crop monitoring and search-and-rescue aid. Its vehicles can stay aloft for up to five years without having to land or refuel, making them an intriguing possibility for beaming out Internet service, according to drone experts.

“Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world, ” Google said in a statement Monday. “It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation.”

The tech collaboration is expected to yield algorithms for wind prediction and flight planning, Google says.

Google’s gambit comes amid a heightened interest among consumers in drones. Last year, CEO Jeff Bezos whetted the public’s appetite with the intention of a drone delivery service that would drop off purchased goods at households. He gave no timetable on when it would be available.


UAVs are Next Wave in Agriculture


Brian Leone’s father and grandfather watched agriculture move from the 19th century to the 20th century. They saw technology move from tractors that had the power of a few horses to machines that communicate with satellites.

That technology changed how far and how fast farmers could move across their fields and how much corn, soybeans and wheat they could grow.

Now, their son and grandson has his eyes on the skies to see the next revolution in agriculture.

“Our mission is to make more bushels per acre, to go from a 200- to 250-per-bushel an acre average. This kind of technology is going to make that happen,” said Leone, who farms near Peru and is the fourth-generation of Leones in the farming and agriculture business.

Leone knows that his generation and following generations will be pioneers of new and very different technology in agriculture.

“Our ancestors watched agriculture go from one-row planters to two-row planters to now 36-row planters. We’re not going to watch that happen. That part of the growth in ag is mainly done,” he said.

The next wave of technology includes a small airborne vehicle, compact enough to fit in a suitcase and run on battery power, but powerful enough to change how farmers view — and care for — their farms and fields.

The use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles in agriculture has caught on around the world and is gaining widespread interest in the U.S. and the Midwest.

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Army Plans to Buy New Small Drone


The Army wants to procure a new small unmanned aircraft which will be packaged
as a kit along with the RQ-20 Puma and RQ-11 Raven.

The short-range micro unmanned aerial system will be a part of the Army’s family of small UAS, said product manager Lt. Col. Nick Kioutas.

“We don’t know what the short-range micro … is going to look like, but it’s probably some sort of a quadcopter,” he said. “The soldier can take that out and land it somewhere and
continue to get video feeds. We call it perch-and-stare capability.”

Army officials in November signed a capability production document for a kit of small
drones called the rucksack-portable unmanned aircraft system. Along with the
short-range micro aircraft, this family of UAS would include the long-range
reconnaissance surveillance system and medium-range mobile system. The Army has
no immediate plans to buy new aircraft to perform those roles. Instead, the kit
will include AeroVironment’s Puma and Raven, respectively.

While some units operate both Pumas and Ravens, the aircraft have never been part of a
common kit, Kioutas said. The idea is that a unit would have a mixture of all
three systems, and soldiers would be able to choose what UAS to bring along
during a mission.

“The soldier goes in that kit and says, ‘Right now, I need something that does this longer endurance’ … or on another occasion he might say, ‘Okay, I might need something that’s a little smaller. I’m going to be carrying it’” farther, he said.

Procurement of the short-range micro version could be affected by budgetary constraints. So far, there has been no funding allocated for a competition, Kioutas said.

“They’re telling us to go ahead and start putting unfunded requests in for the next POM [program objective memorandum], which would be 2017 to 2021,” he said.

The Army has a requirement for 1,213 long-range reconnaissance surveillance systems, but the service’s current inventory of Pumas only fills about half of that, Kioutas

The Army could buy more Pumas to fill that requirement. However,
the service is currently working on software called tactical open government
architecture, or TOGA, that would be able to fly any UAS regardless of

“If we can get this TOGA in place, that would allow us to
go procure anything that’s competitive for that requirement,” he said. In that
case, the service wouldn’t necessarily need to order additional Pumas.